Coaching from the Couch

I’m a massive Andy Murray fan.  A fellow Scot, I have spent more time than is worth admitting in my living room, screaming at the TV shouting all manner of motivational slogans (and possibly the odd, well intentioned insult).

As a fan, I feel I’m doing my bit by shouting madly in support at the screen – hence why the day after the US Open Final last year I was in slight zombie mode.  With Andy doing the hard work on the court the very least I could do was stay up supporting into the small hours.

But wouldn’t it be great if the support fans provided from a distance could actually serve (apologies for the terrible pun…) an actual purpose? Particularly during that inevitable moment in the second set of the semi final against Federer, when it all starts to go a bit topsy turvy.

For this year’s Wimbledon, I think I’ve found a way…..

The IBM’s ‘Slamtracker’ is an online tool which provides analysis of over eight years of grand slam data (41 million data points to be precise). The technology sieves through the enormous amount of data (both historical and real time) to find stats that give each player the best chance of winning.

Before each match the Slamtracker will compare each player based on head-to-head matches and playing styles to determine a set of 3 “keys to winning” (such as percentage of first serves in, percentage of break point opportunities to convert).

If one of the players achieves all 3 and the other player does not– then, statistically speaking at least, they should be able to win the match.

How much this takes into account quick reactions and a player’s tendency to keep their opponents guessing during the course of the match is debateable, but the deep level of analysis is constantly refreshed by what’s happening on the court, and I believe this kind of Big Data analysis (one of the IT industry’s favourite buzz words) will only become more and more influential.

For example, for yesterday’s first Centre court match of Roger Federer vs. Victor Hanescu, here’s how their three ‘keys to winning’ measured up:

Roger Federer

  • Win more than 24% of rallies with three or fewer shots when returning serve
  • Win more than 29% of points when returning Hanescu’s first serve
  • Win more than 76% of points on first serve

Victor Hanescu

  • Win more than 47% of four to nine shot rallies
  • Win more than 24% of the first serve return points
  • Hit an average first serve speed of more than 115MPH

Federer ended up achieving all three of his keys to winning targets by a country mile.  Needing to win 76% of his first serve points, he actually won 90%.  Hanescu needed to win more than 24% of first serve return points, but only managed 10%.  In the end Federer needed just 69 minutes to finish the match.

Analysing data is no longer just for the fan experience; when enough of it is gathered and analysed appropriately, it can inform decision making.  This is the case not only in sport, but in business too, as key indicators in performance.

John Kent, program manager of IBM Worldwide Sponsorship Marketing has tried to caveat those willing souls who are ready to take the bookies by storm (“It’s a look at what each player needs to do well to have a higher likelihood of winning, rather than a prediction of who will win,”) but the stats are hard to ignore.

The Slamtracker has been in use for a couple of years, but for this year’s Wimbledon they have made a significant addition – a social media element.  This is where the fans can really make a difference.

If fans tweet encouraging messages about a player during their match, this all gets measured.  As the match progresses, fans can watch how the popularity of the player is faring against their performance on the court.

How does this help the player’s overall performance?  Those sentiments that we previously screamed at the TV would (no matter how many decibels) never be heard by the players themselves.

Now that we can put them into ‘tweet form’ (the tracker also measures blogs, message boards etc), and the data becomes analysed to provide quick insights into consumer opinion.  This can help with their media responsibilities, and overall confidence.  If the public’s opinion is against them, at least they have the data to tell them what is needed to turn things around in their favour.

In business, knowing what your customer thinks about you is incredibly important – when you release a new product it’s necessary to gain as much insight into customer feedback as you can.

Unsurprisingly, the man who gave Rafa Nadal his second successive Wimbledon shock exit, Steve Darcis, received the lion’s share of the social media sentiment yesterday.  Of 4000 tweets in the first few minutes of the second set, positive sentiment for Darcis reached 93%.

Despite being 135th in the world and Rafa winning his 8th French Open title only a few weeks ago, this seems sure fire proof that everyone really does love an underdog.

This positive sentiment can only help to boost Darcis’ confidence into his second round match and whilst these stats might not quite be as helpful as the three keys to winning, I do believe in the power of support to building up someone’s game.   The combination of a strategic formula and the crowd on your side is definitely a powerful one.

It’s a mindset thing, and Murray talked much about having the crowd’s rapturous support during that emotional runners up speech at last year’s Wimbledon final.

So, an apology in advance to my Twitter followers as I will certainly be making the use of this technology to help Andy in his quest for a second Grand Slam title.

C’mon Andy! #allinformurray